Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya
Who would have thought that common school exams could motivate so stressful situations? Thai director Nattawut Poonpiriya manages to create exactly that in “Bad Genius”, a scholastic, teen-centered heist drama with favorable doses of originality and intense pace.
The story, co-written by Poonpiriya, Tanida Hantaweewatana, and Vasudhorn Piyaromna, was based on real-life occurrences involving cheating students on SAT, the American standardized test widely used for college admissions.
The star of the film, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, is a young fashion model turned into a promising debutant actor. She flawlessly impersonates Lynn, a top-notch student and gold medal in math, who engenders a scheme to help her colleagues passing the tests in exchange for significant sums of money.
It all starts when Lynn is transferred to a new school, one that will give her ampler possibilities of a bright future. This is the wish of her supportive father (Thaneth Warakuklnukroh), a teacher himself, who makes huge financial efforts to have his only daughter studying in such a prestigious school. Yet, Lynn doesn't feel intimidated when explaining to the school’s principal how this change will bring extra expenses to her struggling divorced father. Her fierce determination, clarity of speech, and mental agility will immediately provide her with an unplanned scholarship and free meals.
At school, Lynn befriends Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), a sympathetic artist-wannabe who does much better at the extracurricular activities but is not so expeditious in dealing with the school subjects. Lynn agrees to help her cheating in the exams, but soon, the task extends to Grace’s wealthy boyfriend, Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo), who pays her good money for the right answers. Soon, nearly all the other students are attempting to hire her in order to progress in their studies.
That’s when Lynn has the brilliant idea to start out an exam-cheating business that is directly related to piano chord fingering. Four harmonic patterns establish a direct correspondence with each letter of the multiple choices of an exam, a hassle-free stratagem to get everybody excellent grades. However, things can get very complicated whenever there are two different versions of a test. Besides, Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), an honest, hard-working scholar and direct competitor, finds out the conspiracy and snitched on his classmates.
Later on, Bank, who also struggles financially, also agrees to become part of the team in a wider cheating machination that will bring him some advantages but also inconveniences. Things start to change when, after a venturesome trip to Sydney to take the STIC test, Lynn urges herself to reflect on her conduct.
Remarkably edited by Chonlasit Upanigkit, “Bad Genius” presents a few quibbles that are easily dissolved by the emotional side of the story. One cannot deny the slickness and freshness of its self-confident moves. The tension is unstoppable and the film has no dead moments or delays in its well-planned course of events. Throughout the two-hour odyssey, I kept my fingers crossed for the cheaters, regardless their misconduct and dishonest business.
With social inequalities at the center of this examination, Poonpiriya vouches for a solid entertainment, deftly portraying astute teens whose intelligence combines with a tenacious firmness of purpose and strong personality.